Israel Honors Its Baroness of Dance

Article excerpt

Tel AVIV - "I was brought up in a house full of rare objects," says Batsheva (Bethsabe) de Rothschild. "This is what led me to orient my activities toward the arts. I learned to distinguish between personal taste and artistic value, a prerequisite for a critic."

Rothschild was born in London in 1914, grew up in Paris, left with her parents "at the last minute" as the Nazi army invaded France, and moved to New York City in 1940. "My father decided to leave France after the fall of the invincible Maginot Line," she says.

After the Six-Day War of 1967, Rothschild settled in and built her home in Israel, enhancing her activities in different fields that she took under her patronage, while at the same time consistently nurturing dance. After years of supporting the Martha Graham Dance Company, she introduced a new standard of dance professionalism and revolutionized the perception of modern dance in Israel by founding Batsheva Dance Company (1964), Bat-Dor Dance Company (1967-68), the Bat-Dor ballet schools (1967), and the Center for Dance Medicine (1985). She has dedicated her life to helping the arts and sciences in Israel for the past forty years, although she has never become an Israeli citizen.

On a recent evening, Rothschild sat at the new Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, elegantly dressed in a bright blue sequined dress, listening to a succession of dignitaries, including Mayor Roni Milo. "There is no other individual more deserving of our gratitude for her contribution to our cultural life, science, and the arts, nor more instrumental in the advancement of dance in Israel," said Milo, who presented her with the Gold Medal of Tel Aviv. Former Israeli president Efraim Katzir, director of the Rothschild Science Foundation, recounted her contribution in some areas less known to the public. These include supporting housing for newcomers in the early 1950s and providing grants to hundreds of emigre scientists. "The Israeli science community highly respects this first private foundation that always acted swiftly when needed," said Katzir.

Greetings from the stage were added to many greetings from the dance world, including letters of appreciation from Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and Juilliard dance division director Benjamin Harkarvy. Robert Cohan, Batsheva's longtime artistic director, wrote, "With Batsheva's incredibly generous contribution to dance, she has changed forever its history."

The evening also offered tangible evidence of the effects of Rothschild's largesse, in the form of performances. Bat-Dor dancers presented sections of Ivan Feller Ducach's Enigma, Taylor's Cloven Kingdom, and Luciano Cannito's Mare Nostrum, choreographed for the occasion.

The publicity-shy Rothschild, a recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize in 1989, sat alone throughout the ceremony, except for her personal aide, who carried the compact oxygen container upon which Rothschild relies. As the curtain rose for the last time, it revealed the baroness sitting in an armchair, as Bat-Dor dancers and children from the Bat-Dor ballet schools appeared bearing flowers and bowing to her, a most deserving salute to a leading figure in the maturation of dance in Israel.

Rothschild graduated from the Sorbonne with a degree in biology, and continued her studies in biochemistry at Columbia University. She worked for two years at industrial laboratories and then began to function in the public domain. She joined the New York office of the Free France movement, eventually enlisted in the French army, and landed in Normandy following the Allied invasion. …